I feel pretty confident in saying that Obama's going to win this thing tonight, and fucking A, I hope I'm right, because if he doesn't... well, I'll let my grandma, who is awesome, do the talking. She emailed me this on Sunday.
We are about to elect our first black president. And if we don't, I will go into a deep depression or move abroad. I am reading Obama's Dreams from My Father and am even more impressed with his talent and intellect than I was before. Isn't McCain a drag? I can hardly stay in the room when he is droning on... or when his cute little sidekick is giving us a wink.
Yes, Grandma! Yes. A deep depression! But jesus, our collective mopiness is gonna be the least of Americans' problems if Obama loses. And I'm not just talking about how shitty it would be, policy-wise, to have McCain in office: I'm talking about Americans' interest in, faith in, and participation in politics. The past two presidential elections have done an excellent job of convincing rational and educated people that their voices simply don't matter, and if Obama doesn't win tonight, I think it's safe to say that what will follow will be disenfranchisement, anger, and unprecedentedly low voter turnout in future elections. This isn't just a race that has the potential to shape America's policies, wars, and finances--this is an election that has the potential to shape Americans' participation in representative democracy for decades to come.
The first time I was old enough to vote for president was in 2000, when I was living in one of the American West's many bustling metropolises. Thanks to geography, a vote for Gore--who, it's easy to forget, was then utterly limp and bland and useless, a shadow of the still-stilted man he is now--would have been futile, and I've never liked our two-party system, so Nader it was, and my first vote was a waste.
2004 was America's chance to redeem itself--even if handing a just-begun war to Kerry with the expectation he'd be able to mop up Bush's mess would have, most likely, be a disaster for America's ever-milquetoasty Democrats for decades to come. All the same, I'd talked myself into giving a shit about Kerry, as had everyone that I knew; the ill-formed idea that "anyone was better than Bush" actually seemed to be half-legit. The Mercury election party at the Doug Fir that year started off great, then grew steadily more dour and shitty as the results trickled in; by the end of the night, a friend looked around the half-empty basement of the club and said something like "I think I'm gonna go home and throw up now," which was probably the most accurate summation possible.
That's my experience with presidential elections so far, and it's the same story for a lot of people my age--those of us who've tried to get involved, and have tried to push our thoughts and emotions into action, yet have found our contributions to be at best insignificant and at worst a waste of time.
It's already looking like this election is going to have a record turnout of voters both old and new, and it's easy to see why: Rarely have the stakes felt higher, and there's been nobody like Obama in my lifetime. He's a man who has inspired young people, minorities, geriatrics, immigrants, and average folks more than anyone else in recent memory. More importantly, he's a man who has involved these people--convinced them that this time around, what they think and say might actually matter.
The first time I saw Obama speak, I finally understood the sort of visceral tug that people seemed to have towards the memory of Kennedy; the second time, the sheer spectacle of that many people giving a shit--not having talked themselves into it, not settling, and not holding back with their hopes--was bewildering and inspiring.
I've been an Obama supporter since last February--a decision that marked the first time I'd ever financially donated to any political candidate--but not for the usual reasons. I like most of his policies, and I like what I know of the man--but more importantly, I think of Obama as the proverbial wrench in the rusting gears of American politics. Frankly, I'm not entirely confident that Obama will be a great president--but I am sure that whatever he ends up doing, it'll change things up, disrupt the system, make people think and act in ways they aren't used to. Unlike most of his supporters and critics, I've always considered Obama's lack of experience a benefit, not a drawback: If nothing else, Obama will serve as a reset button for peoples' expectations and assumptions and America's status quo, and I can't imagine anything this country needs more right now.
As is probably incredibly obvious if you've made it this far, I'm hardly an expert on this sort of stuff. (Despite a fair amount of effort, for example, I still understand neither the mechanical processes of nor the continuing existence of the electoral college--if someone can explain this to me tonight at the Doug Fir, I'd appreciate it). But all the same, and back to my original point: Today's important, and not just for the obvious "Yay, new president!" reason. Today marks Americans' chance to fix things, to change things, to restore America to its long-absent, possibly imaginary ideals. And if the astounding movement that's sprung up around Obama's candidacy isn't enough to make that happen, then I doubt anything will.
Image via the Times' Politics Blog: The Final Countdown: Obama Casts His Vote.